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Valentine" in Shara & Friends
how are you?” Tyler asked, hugging the older, shorter,
slimmer woman. Though in her sixties, Gunnar didn’t
think his future mother-in-law looked a day over forty.
“Beuna, chica, buena,”
Carmen said, kissing her daughter’s cheek. She
walked further into the house and Gunnar leaned his head back against
the couch. “¿Hijo, como
“I am well, mor,”
Gunnar said as Carmen kissed his forehead. Carmen
Colón Carver had become a second mother to him, stepping in
while his own mother Tekla was in Norway. Carmen and Tekla
got on very well, and sometimes Gunnar thought they were more excited
about August 8th than he
and Tyler were.
gave Damon a bottle and hour ago and then—”
is Valentine’s Day, corazón,”
Carmen said, cupping her daughter’s cheek.
“Spend it with your young man.”
“Go on, you
two,” Carmen said with a grin, taking her grandson from
Gunnar’s arms. “It’s a day for
Gunnar stood and saw
Tyler’s indecision all on her face. He suddenly
realized why she’d conveniently let Gunnar forget about the
holiday. Carmen. She would be spending it alone,
and after years of not having her mother close, Tyler deigned to leave
her by herself.
His heart swelling
further with love, Gunnar approached Tyler and cupped her cheeks in his
hands. “She’ll be all right, kjære,”
Tyler looked at him
in confusion. “What?”
mother…she’ll be all right.”
She looked at him in
surprise. “What do you mean?”
Grinning, he kissed
her softly. “Being alone.
She’ll be okay, honey. Besides, she knows where to
get us and Wendy and Damon should something happen with the
slightly, Tyler looked around Gunnar to see her mother grinning at a
beaming Damon, Jr. “Mommy.”
your young man, corazón,”
Carmen said. “We will be fine, won’t we, nieto?”
The baby laughed and
reached out chubby hands to his grandmother’s lips.
With that, Gunnar
went back over to Carmen and Damon, Jr., kissing both on the cheek
before grabbing his messenger bag and the photos from the couch, then
taking Tyler’s hand in his.
be at my house,” Gunnar told his future mother-in-law.
we’ll be here. You two have a happy
have dinner tomorrow!” Tyler said as Gunnar led her out the
not even see you
Carmen said on a laugh. Gunnar guffawed, especially at
Tyler’s shocked expression.
permission to give her more grandbabies? Yes, yes, she
with Your Heart
(Available Now from Beautiful
Shiloh turned to douse the rest of the
lights, so many questions whirring through her mind.
It had been four years since she’d seen him,
since he’d guided her and her brothers to a Union camp under
hadn’t wanted to leave him in the midst of war, with the
deafening reports of guns and the smell of smoke and burning flesh, and
had tried in vain to convince him to stay with them.
But he’d smiled, kissed her forehead, and
promised he’d always be with her.
Shiloh didn’t know how that would’ve
been possible when she nor her brothers had no idea where they were
going after their escape; but they’d ended up West, and West
was a lot of territory. Still,
that hadn’t stopped her heart from beating extra fast
whenever she’d caught a glimpse of someone who
could’ve been familiar.
Funny how it remained steady when she finally did reunite
with the man who’d changed her life so much.
Shiloh heard him stand and she glanced his
way as she moved from behind the counter to the door.
He approached but maintained space between them. She’d forgotten
how tall he actually was, having to tilt her head back to look into his
eyes. Then again,
her brothers weren’t tiny, either, but it was merely a tilt
of the head to look at either of them.
The lamps from the street provided a little light in the
otherwise darkened saloon, but she wouldn’t have needed that
to know he was staring at her. The
power of his eyes couldn’t be ignored.
“I will walk you
home,” he said softly.
shook her head and left the saloon, his footfalls thumping behind her
on the plank steps. “That’s
just down the way. Within
“Your brother thought it fit to
walk you there before he left.”
“I’m a single woman
and he thinks I can’t take care of myself,” Shiloh
said, walking on to the boarding house.
Nashoba’s laugh seemed to curl into her ears,
making her smile.
know that is not true. He
just wants to make sure you do not have to, Chilita. That is what one does for
someone he holds dear.”
looked away from him to hide a blush he wouldn’t be able to
see even if it were high noon. Very
rarely did someone speak to her with unadorned tenderness. Nashoba had called her brave
and was still able to acknowledge the fact she was a woman. Even her brothers could be
borderline crude with her, but that was their way.
She didn’t put up with foolishness or posturing,
but that didn’t mean a small, feminine part of her
didn’t want or appreciate soft words and gentle phrases. Granted, she preferred
britches to the long skirts most women wore.
She enjoyed the freedom and the ease with which she could
move. She also
thought that much fabric was a bit wasteful, and she didn’t
abide by unnecessary excess.
is the same reason why I am walking you back, Shiloh.
That and because…”
He didn’t respond, as if letting
the memories of what happened between them all those years ago swirl
between them. It
had been intense, bringing about irrevocable changes for her, she knew;
but she sensed for him as well. Definitely
for his people. She
couldn’t help but hear of the battles going on throughout the
territories between the Indians and the Army.
But he was here, and at least the shell of him was whole.
“I’ve missed you
too,” she whispered, stealing a peek at him.
“Hmm,” he intoned,
stroking his chin. “Miha moma…”
Shiloh burst out laughing and shoved
him lightly. “I
will not say that again! You lucky you got that
much out of me.”
gotten more than that in the past…”
She abruptly stopped walking, glad she had
that excuse for she was at the boarding house.
He turned to her, his lips tilted in a half grin. Shiloh looked down at her
feet to hide her responding grin, the boots she wore dusty from the
road and scuffed from age. A
larger pair of boots, much newer and nicer, came into view, the tips of
those touching the tips of hers.
will see you again,” Nashoba said.
“In another four
quite that long,” the deep voice replied.
“Sleep well, chunkash
Sweetheart. Grinning wider, Shiloh kept
her head bowed and didn’t raise it again until she was sure
Nashoba was out of sight.
Nights: Interludes" (Available Now!)
An hour later, the eight of them were
walking into a roadhouse-type bar, The Barrel, eyeing the scene with excited
anticipation. Tim ran a hand over his blond hair as his eyes
swept the area, stopping at a booth where a group of women, all but
one, threw back a shot of something. It was the one who
hadn’t who caught his attention, especially given the way she
wagged her finger as if in warning. When she smiled, though,
showing straight white teeth and a sparkle in her eyes, Tim’s
breath whooshed out.
“Damn, jackpot, huh?” Ulrich
whispered from beside him, his and the others’ attention
finding that table with the beautiful women.
Tim continued to stare at the
inky-hued woman with curves for days and no-nonsense radiating from
her, especially when the other women danced off onto the floor and she
watched them like a mother hen worried for her chicks. Yet
instead of heading to the group like the rest did, Tim made his way to
the bar, ordering a bottlenecked beer, and sat on the stool, well aware
he’d just found something he infinitely preferred to study
more than nuclear equations for the next six months.
(Rerelease Available Now!)
The drive back to the
train station had been
hard, as well as the even lonelier train ride back to Penn Station.
met AJ there, and he gave him an encouraging pat on the back.
work out,” Dimitri said. “New Year,
AJ said that phrase
like a mantra as he
boarded his plane back to Athens the next day; during the subsequent
he received not so much as an e-mail from Samara; during the weeks when
restaurant had gotten so busy that all he could do was wake up and go
from exhaustion. Returning to Greece had been torture, much as it had
Samara had left the first time. Yet this time, there weren’t
any long conversations
on the phone, IM, or webcam. It was as if Samara had been completely
from him, and all calls or e-mails to her remained unanswered.
AJ threw himself
into his work, so much so
he didn’t even realize it was February until Spyros entered
his bedroom blowing
a kazoo and throwing confetti in his bed.
you old coot! Happy Birthday!
AJ shuddered and
threw an aimless pillow in
Spyros’s direction. “Go to hell.”
you,” Spyros said cheekily. “And you’re
one year closer to it yourself! Thirty-five! You’re as old as
Spyros cackled, and blew the kazoo in the most irritating manner known
Birthday, indeed,” AJ murmured, his
eyes going to the painting that now hung on the wall across from him so
would be the first thing he saw every morning. His heart constricted
as his eyes took in him and Samara together, then looked at the cold,
space next to him.
AJ showered and
dressed as normal, thinking
it was very fitting his birthday fell on a Monday this year. At least
hide his despondency in his work, but he knew better than to be
surly. His mother lived for birthdays; and considering he was her only
he would try to be excited about the day for her benefit. Besides, this
anniversary of her motherhood as well as his birth. As such, a sincere
did form on his face when he thought of the gift he’d bought
for her. Every
year, since his eighteenth birthday, AJ had given his mother a gift on
birthday to celebrate her day, thinking it belonged to her as much as
belonged to him. This year he’d gotten them plane tickets to
go to Santa Monica
to visit Aunt Airlia and Uncle Feodras in May, right before the Athens
season started. It had been far too long since they’d seen
them, which had been
at Khristos’s funeral almost two years ago.
AJ bounded down the
stairs and walked to
the restaurant. As soon as he entered, he was bombarded with well
benign ribbing. His uncle, Spyros’s father, gave him a cane
with a shiny blue
bow on it, and AJ let out a genuine laugh. His Uncle Andros had always
fantastic sense of humor.
closing early, party tonight to
celebrate my favorite nephew!” Uncle Andros said laughingly
as he gave AJ a
Anatole exclaimed indignantly.
Uncle Andros laughed
again. “AJ doesn’t
hear it when I say it to you, does he?”
AJ’s day turned out to be
surprisingly wonderful, definitely the best day of the New Year by far.
mother stole a moment of privacy with him and they hugged in his office
very long time.
proud of you, mijo,” Luz said
in a mixture of Greek and Spanish.
AJ kissed the top of
his mother’s head and
squeezed her tighter. “You’re my first love, Mama.
Never forget that.”
Luz grasped her
son’s chin with a quick,
gentle pressure before patting him maternally on his backside.
Get back to work.”
Perhaps it was
because the restaurant
closed earlier that day, but AJ didn’t feel nearly as
exhausted as he had been
for the past few weeks at the end of the workday. In fact, his mood was
as Spyros pulled him down into the seat of honor and the employees
brought a cake
out with thirty-five sparkling candles. Luz ran her fingers through his
looking upon her son with pure adoration and pride. Family.
He’d been living in
his funk and missing Samara so much that he’d forgotten he
had an entire host
of people who loved him .
you,” AJ whispered, his throat
uncharacteristically tight before he blew out the candles with two
For the next hour,
everyone ate and talked
and danced. Luz absolutely loved her present, and told him she was
going off to
call Aunt Airlia with the news. Ana pulled AJ from the table and
to dance, and he surrendered to the merriment of the day. He was
himself so much that he almost missed the piercing whistle that brought
everything to a halt. Knowing it had come from Spyros, he glared at his
who shrugged and pointed frantically to his mother.
haven’t given you my gift yet, mijo,”
Luz said with a soft, loving smile on her face.
AJ looked to the
table, then back to his
mother with a frown. “Mama?”
Birthday—oh!” Luz laughed, surprised
when AJ lifted her off her feet and hugged her tightly. The rest of the
laughed as well, but AJ’s ears had honed onto one laugh in
belonging to the one person he never thought he would see.
Be Your Somebody" (Available Now!)
readout was missing a few
letters. They spelled “Not”, as in
was not a sound to be heard,
a breath to be breathed, a pulse to be pulsed. Rosita and
Bevin stared at each
other, she on the commode and Bevin on the side of the tub.
Her best friend’s
golden eyes dropped to Rosita’s midsection.
dropped the stick as if it had
shot up a thousand degrees in one second and scrambled off the
toilet. She stared
wide-eyed at it, her mind telling her she’d suddenly become
she did not read what she just read.
puedo leer en inglés,”
shocked expression on Bevin’s
midnight-hued face melted into one of amusement.
“Yes, you can read English.
Very well, in fact. Welcome to the club, Rosita.”
glared at Bevin, two
seconds away from sticking out her tongue and cussing her out in fluent
when a knock on the door made them both jump.
What?” Rosita snapped.
are y’all okay in there?”
nostrils flared in
frustration while Bevin’s flared for an entirely different
sucked her teeth and rolled her eyes.
glanced down at the stick,
then raised an eyebrow at her friend. “Pot, kettle,
fine, baby,” Bevin called
to her husband, taking a few squares of toilet paper to pick up the
throw it in the trash. “You need to use the
my child still alive?”
came the sigh, and Bevin
grinned, washing her hands.
right, my love, we’re on our
way out,” she promised, cutting off the water and drying her
hands on one of
the towels. Bevin opened the door and giggled as Tim gathered
her close and
gave her a gentle kiss on the mouth.
pretended she didn’t notice
any of this as she washed her hands as well, her heart squeezing at the
possibility that could be her one day. Her and…
Nights (Available Now!)
Tim Capshaw dangled the
the index and middle fingers of his right hand, staring intently at the
where the singular young woman with a curly bob stared sentry-like onto
dance floor. Tim
wasn’t exactly sure why
his eyes had stopped on her during his slow casing of the joint, but
had. Maybe it was
because she looked so
out of place—and it wasn’t because she was one of
the few black bodies in the
building. It was
her rigid posture; the
fact her black top covered more than exposed; and the fact there was an
three-foot radius around her that was rarely broken by anything other
women or servers who would chat her up for a few seconds then leave her
didn’t seem sad or depressed,
either, which further intrigued him.
looked comfortable in her skin, and to Tim, that was sexy as hell.
There was a
continuous hum of sound in his
left ear, and Tim realized it was from a slim redhead who had one of
stunning pairs of blue eyes he’d ever seen, but a body with
more angles than a
stop sign. Tim
gritted his teeth and
took another swig of his beer. Her
interest wasn’t reciprocated, unfortunately, but he would
give her a B+ for
found her,” the redhead said,
pointing toward the black woman he’d been watching earlier. “If you go over
there with a drink or
something, chat her up, then I’m sure she’ll give
you permission to take me
home tonight.” The
redhead ran her
tongue over her bottom lip in what he assumed was supposed to be a
gesture. Tim took
another sip from his
beer so he wouldn’t laugh in her face.
your mother or something?” he asked
dryly, his Alabama drawl almost sprawling as the alcohol started taking
effect. He looked
at the redhead with a
raised eyebrow. “Your
Her eyes fluttered
and her cheeks turned
red. He grinned. The woman was much cuter
when she blushed.
like that,” she assured him,
resting her hand on his muscular forearm.
He watched her painted-red nails catch some of the dim
amber light in
the bar as she flexed her fingers.
switched his bottle from his right to left hand, the muscles underneath
fingers cording when he gripped the bottle.
This time he didn’t hide his smile when she
unsuccessfully stifled her
she, then?” Tim asked, staring at
the redhead when he really wanted to look back at the booth.
the losers away from us.”
He raised his
what makes you think I’m not a loser?”
than the fact I know you wear a
trident?” she asked, her blue-eyed gaze roving slowly over
his form while her
fingers caressed his forearm. “You
have the look of a loser.”
A corner of
Tim’s full-lipped mouth
nothing if not adventurous.”
The redhead smirked
and leaned against the
bar. Tim drank the
final few drops of
his beer and set the bottle on the bar in front of him.
“What’s her poison?”
her name?” Tim asked, resisting
the urge to roll his eyes.
um, nonalcoholic, I know—she’s
He nodded and tapped
on the bar. When
the bartender approached, Tim
I get a Diet Coke and
another one of these?” he asked, pointing to the empty beer
bottle. A few
moments later, both orders appeared
before him, and Tim slapped down a ten.
“Keep the change,” he drawled, and the
bartender nodded thanks.
and let me know what she says,
yeah?” the redhead commanded when Tim slid off the barstool.
answer her, already stalking
toward his quarry.
She took in one last
breath before turning
towards the glass doors and freezing, exhaling harshly and falling back
the railing for support. Jada could only blink, disbelieving her eyes.
not even five feet away from her, wearing a perfectly tailored suit,
she remembered his tastes right, and looking every bit as handsome as
he had five
years ago, even with his new beard. His hair was shorter though, yet
waviness of it was still apparent, and his green eyes looked right
as if he had X-ray vision and could see all the secret pining for him
hidden for years.
Jada gripped the
railing tighter when he
came closer, slowly, as a hunter cornering his prey. He put his hands
coat’s pockets and stopped a foot away from her, eyes darting
all along her
She closed her eyes
at the familiarity,
having not heard that name in years. She counted to ten and opened them
He smiled and Jada
instantly felt warm. She
smiled in return because it was an automatic response whenever he did.
smile widened and he enveloped her in a large hug, lifting her off the
with ease despite her filling out a bit since the last time
he’d seen her.
been so long,” he whispered in her
hair and he set her on the ground, his hands cool against her bare
blades as they slid up her nape to tangle underneath her bun.
years,” she said softly in his neck,
eyes closed as she allowed her body to settle into the intimacy and
of the embrace. It was as if they’d just seen each other
yesterday and not five
years ago, as if they hadn’t exchanged the first words to
each other in over
four. She pulled back, but not before he snuck a kiss to her forehead.
beautiful,” he said seriously,
rubbing his hands along her arms. She gave him a skeptical look and
head. “You are. You’re absolutely
the shimmer makeup.”
can’t accept a compliment, can you?”
he asked on a light chuckle.
always flattered me too much.”
word I say I mean,” Aaron said, his
Jada laughed and
stepped away, needing to
put distance between them. He was making it too easy to fall back into
friendship, but too much had happened for that to be the best thing to
was an entire seaboard separating them anyway, and she didn’t
have the freedom
she once had while in college. She had responsibilities now…
McKensie Lowman doing? And Ricci’s? Things
going well there?” Jada asked, steering the conversation to
doing well. In fact, we’re
opening a McKensie Lowman building here, and I’m overseeing
flitted across Jada’s face
before it settled into a smile again. “Really?”
thought it was about time we had a
southern division; makes us more accessible to our clients that
Falcons are one of them?”
Besides…I won’t deny I had a personal
motivation to open offices down here…”
was the only word Jada could
think of during this entire reunion. But she gathered her bearings
wouldn’t entertain the fact she
could be this “personal reason,” no matter how
tempting the thought was. She
pasted on another smile and held out her hand. “Well, I hope
you enjoy your
stay in Atlanta, Aaron.”
He took her hand and
closed his other one
on top of it, a small frown on his face. “What’s
wrong? You act like you’re not
happy to see me.”
just that my friend’s inside and—”
you are, dearest!” another
voice sounded from behind Aaron, and Jada tried not to tense. The
clicked against the stones of the terrace as she came toward them, and
Jada began tugging her hand from Aaron’s, he
wouldn’t let go. He smiled over
his shoulder at the arrival.
not lost, sweetheart.”
still couldn’t find you,” the
woman said on a laugh, but it petered out when she saw who was with
gave a small smile, and the other woman arched an eyebrow but returned
gesture. “Well…aren’t you going to
Aaron was staring at
Jada again, and she
cleared her throat. “Oh!” Aaron exclaimed, then
chuckled embarrassedly. “Of
course! Jada this is Veronica Prescott; Veronica, this is Jada
Veronica said, holding out a
Jada accepted it.
handshake was as flimsy as her
act of genuine pleasure, and they dropped hands after a quick interval.
shrunk a little as she looked at Veronica, with her beautiful black
beautiful blue eyes along with a model’s lithe form. Jada
need me for something?” Aaron
asked Veronica. The woman slid her arm through his free one and gave
large, bright smile. “One of the owners wanted to talk to you
forecasts for the Falcons if they go all the way to the Super
Bowl…I told him
I’d come find you.”
Aaron groaned and
gave Jada a sympathetic
smile. “Even at a party I’m on the job. I guess
we’ll have to cut this reunion
fine,” Jada said kindly. “I have to
find my friend anyway.”
about we get together later so
we can catch up more?” Aaron asked, gazing earnestly at her.
Jada didn’t look
at Veronica though she felt the other woman’s eyes on her. It
wouldn’t be a
good idea for Aaron to re-enter her life; they should just leave this
as an aberration instead of making a habit of it.
going to be really busy, as I’m sure
you will be—”
c’mon Jada, you know I’d always make
time for you.”
about these past few years?
Jada only smiled, squeezing his hand subconsciously.
He pulled his arm from Veronica and
reached into the inside of his suit jacket, pulling out a business
the information to my office. And—oh,
wait—” He pulled his hand from hers to
take out a pen and write a number on the back of the card.
my cell number,” Aaron said,
closing the card in her hand and his own hand over hers.
don’t have yours anymore; I think I accidentally erased it
when I got a new
cell phone a few years ago.” All three laughed, but only one
was genuine. “But
now we’re reconnected, right?”
smile turned soft, and he cupped
her face, bringing her cheek to his lips. “It’s
wonderful to see you again,” he
said lowly, for her ears only. “It really makes my
too,” she said. He rubbed her cheek
with his thumb before dropping his hand and leaving, Veronica slipping
back through his as they left.
The chill was back, and Jada wrapped her
arms around herself, but she didn’t go inside until the crowd
couple from her sight.
Beauty Within (Available Now!)
really wished she were more surprised to see Gunnar walking through the
door than she was, but she had been
expecting…hoping…he would stop by for another
refused to think of the implications of doing so.
was wearing his usual leather jacket and smirk, but instead of the
breakaway pants he had been wearing the last time, black jeans hugged
his strong thighs and ass she knew damn well would make an excellent
trampoline for a quarter. He took off the jacket and hung it on the
coat rack this time, revealing a deep blue crew neck sweater that
enhanced the musculature of his torso and arms.
brushed a hand over his head. “Can I get a haircut? I know I
didn’t make an appointment, but I figured it would be okay to
walk in since the last time I was here it wasn’t
shrugged, trying to go for a nonchalance she didn’t feel.
“Sure. You can have a seat—”
was wondering if I could get a wash too?
I figure I should go for the full effect since I missed out on it last
mean it’s okay
Tyler said quickly, then
shook her head in bemusement. This was the strangest man
she’d ever met. “It won’t cost extra if
that’s what you’re thinking.”
nodded. He was staring at her again. She had never known eyes to have
such a presence of their own, but his did. It didn’t matter
that the rest of him was such an impeccable specimen of the male form,
his eyes ensnared her every time. He probably spoke more with his eyes
than with his mouth, and Tyler admitted she tended to like what his
Serendipity (Available Now!)
spotted her in the market as he was shopping for fresh ingredients for
his restaurant. She was clearly an American, for Americans tended to
stick out like sore thumbs, especially in Greece. It was the way she
carried herself: cautious, but not nearly cautious enough, as if
someone wouldn't have the unmitigated gall to approach and do something
untoward to her. She was looking at the wares being sold at
Monastiraki. It was clear she wasn't really interested in buying
anything, but she gave the vendors shy smiles and nodded when
appropriate. Before he knew what he was doing, he paid for his
purchases and began following her.
was a black woman, her skin not as dark as he had seen with other
women, but there was a dark-caramel hue to her that shone beautifully
against the pink sundress she was wearing. The straps were thin, and
her chest seemed bountiful and full in the bodice. Her
cleavage was stunning, he thought, and her skin seemed so
hair was in that natural Afro style, and there was a cliff rose flower
tucked behind her ear. She was by no means the most beautiful woman he
had ever seen, and her body probably wouldn't grace a magazine cover in
the near future, but she was his very definition of a woman: soft,
lush, delicately strong. He thought her adorable, especially since she
seemed oblivious to the looks other men were giving her. Not oblivious
in the sense she knew she was getting the attention and was patently
ignoring it, but in a way that seemed like she didn't even think it was
possible she could enchant someone the way she was. It was as if she
needed someone to help her discover all the treasures she possessed,
and he was nothing if not an ardent and enthusiastic explorer of the
stopped at another booth where flowers were sold. She took time to
smell them, clearly pleased by the scent of the orchids she had stopped
to peruse. The vendor spoke to her, telling her more about the flora.
you," he saw her mouth form, and the corners of his mouth turned up.
had bewitched him completely, and he was bewildered. Something about
her called to him, that shyness and vulnerability he saw. Unable to
ignore it, he found himself approaching the booth, his lips quirking
slightly when she remained ever cautious, yet oblivious to his focus on
like a bouquet for the lady," he said in English to the vendor, wanting
this enchantress to know he meant the gift for her. She looked at him
with another cursory smile, though her eyes widened. Brown eyes. They
were oval-shaped and sweet and a pretty brown, like syrup. She looked
behind her, then glanced his way once more before telling the vendor,
"thank you" again and leaving.
was confused as the vendor gave him the flowers, until he looked to his
right and saw an attractive brunette also perusing the flowers. He
chuckled to himself. His charming pink lady had assumed he wasn't
referring to her. Well, he would find her and let her know otherwise.
wasn't hard to spot; there weren't many people of color in the market,
and the pink outfit was like a beacon to him. She stopped in front of
another booth where paintings were sold, but her posture was one of,
"I'm just browsing, won't be staying long."
he allowed her to get away from him again, he approached, calling out
to her as her back was to him.
you forgot your flowers."
didn't respond, didn't even turn to look at him. She continued looking
at the knockoff paintings at her feet, her brows furrowed and her
fingers tapping at her lips. He chuckled to himself, unable to believe
this woman was so lost in her own world. That could be dangerous,
especially since she was foreign and traveling alone. She would need an
was volunteering himself.
went closer to her, this time bending his six-foot-three frame so he
could speak in her ear. She hadn't seemed so short at a distance. "You
gasped and jumped, her breath coming out harshly and her hand on her
chest as if it could slow down her heart rate. "You scared me!"
apologize," he said, his smile positively roguish as he held out the
bouquet he had bought her. "You forgot these."
didn't buy any flowers," she said suspiciously, glancing at his eyes
and the flowers before beginning to turn away.
know. I did. For you."
had her turning back to him, but her expression was wary, downright
mistrustful. "For me?"
frowned at him. "Why?"
liked them. I wanted you to have them."
frown deepened, and she looked at the vendor as if he could clarify
things for her. The vendor merely shrugged and went to help another
customer. "You wasted your money."
such thing. Come. Take the flowers. I insist."
I thought that woman—"
were the only woman I saw."
eyes fluttered and she took in a deep breath. "Are you flirting with
to," he said with a devilish smile. She bit her lip to hide her grin
and rolled her eyes, but he cheered internally, knowing this short,
spitfire of a woman thought him humorous.
you trying to sell me something? Did you target me as gullible? This
happened to me in Egypt once . . . got a marriage proposal, too."
you turned him down," he said with mock sadness, "but he obviously has
impeccable taste to want to spend the rest of his life with you."
scowled. "That was pretty thick."
quirked an eyebrow. "You have no idea, sweetheart."
she bit her lip, and was even less successful hiding her grin. She
crossed her arms underneath her chest, only serving to enhance that
beautiful cleavage of hers, and he had to force himself to look into
know you want to take the flowers," he said, coming closer to her. She
leaned back, but didn't move otherwise, and he was heartened even more.
"And if you'd like to be even less of a target, I could escort you."
shrugged. "Anywhere you'd like to go. A beautiful woman such as
yourself shouldn't be alone, anyway. Your husband must be a fool."
him being a fool?"
She abruptly cut off her speech and shook her head. "Never mind. I
really must be going, but thank you for the offer—"
he interrupted. "My name is AJ."
she said, as if testing it out on her tongue. Her suspicious demeanor
melted and she shrugged, holding out her hand. "I'm Samara."
took her hand and brought it to his lips. "A wonderful pleasure to meet
you, Miss Samara."
Just a few seconds ago you had me married."
gave a wry chuckle. "Not hardly!"
tilted his head, his thumb rubbing the back of her hand idly. "You mean
some American man hasn't swept you off your feet yet?"
looked down at herself and snorted. "I haven't met many professional
weightlifters in my day . . ."
frowned and squeezed her hand. "Don't do that."
yourself. I think you're lovely . . . like a woman should look. You
look like a woman, Samara. Never apologize for that."
all Greek men this smooth?"
gave her a half smile. "Only when appropriately inspired."
giggled, and it was the cutest sound he'd ever heard. "Okay . . . can I
have my hand back?"
if you accept these flowers. It's a gift without any strings."
do I not believe that?"
you are an American, and Americans are as gullible as they are
bottom lip went between her teeth again, and all AJ could think was how
it would feel between his. He wanted to pull her close, fit her to him,
protect her. There would be no reason to be suspicious as long as he
shrugged again and held out her free hand. "Okay. I accept. Thank you."
smiled and her eyelids fluttered again. He knew he was a handsome man.
He'd been told often that his golden-tan skin, green eyes, and head
full of black hair made him appealing, and he wasn't blind, but
something about her awed expression humbled him and made him feel pride
at the same time. He was glad she found him pleasing.
handed the bouquet to her, and she scented them automatically. "This
was very sweet of you."
the sweet one."
don't know me well enough to make a judgment call like that."
you let me?"
to know you a little better?"
took a deep breath, looking down at the hand he hadn't let go of, then
around the marketplace. "Okay . . ."
long as we stay here in Monastiraki, then yes. I have about an hour
left before I have to leave . . ."
let's go," he said, tugging on her hand and leading her through the
they walked and shopped, Samara seemed to avoid eye contact with him,
and had he allowed her to drop her hand, she would've probably put
enough space between them that another human could separate them.
However, AJ refused, loving the feel of her warm hand in his, liking
the fact that it wasn't dainty and slim.
told her of the history of the market, why it was called Monastiraki,
and she asked questions that told him she had a very inquisitive mind
and loved history. She also began to relax, and met his eyes more
whenever they spoke. Of course, she'd get that blush on her cheeks and
avert her attention quickly, but he wouldn't rush her.
Lovely young couple, there! Paint you and the wife!"
again, Samara kept walking, or would have, had AJ not stopped and held
fast to her hand. "What?" she asked.
painter would like to paint us."
looked at him confused, then at the painter who lifted up his brush and
palette and nodded enthusiastically. "Paint us?"
Paint a beautiful couple!"
on, darling," AJ said, his green eyes darkening in challenge. "He is
very talented, no? Though da Vinci himself wouldn't be able to capture
rolled her eyes and shook her head. "So bad . . ."
assure you, precious," AJ began, bending his mouth to her ear, the
hairs of his trim goatee tickling her skin, "bad is not a critique I've
getting it now," she said, smirking slightly.
grinned, showing his even white teeth, and yanked her to him. "Please.
Let's do the painting. I'll even pay."
you'll keep it."
you want it."
eyes dropped to his chest, and she let out a long-suffering sigh. "You
really want the painting?"
closed her eyes and almost let her forehead drop to his chest before
she caught herself. "Okay."
sent up silent thanks for allowing this painter to extend his time with
her. Because there was only one stool, AJ sat down first and, after
much coaxing and the serendipitous discovery she was insanely ticklish,
settled Samara into his lap. She was rigid at first, as if unused to
being held by a man. Given how she had been behaving since he first
spotted her, AJ guessed that was probably true.
men are idiots, he determined, tucking her into his chest.
Clearly they didn't deserve her if they couldn't appreciate what she
had to offer.
precious," he whispered into her ear.
won't bite unless you give me permission."
laughed and settled into him, the flowers cradled in her arms like a
babe. Unable to help himself, he rested his chin against her temple and
held her gently, and would have rocked her if they didn't need to
remain still. Some people began to stop and stare at them, and Samara
grew uncomfortable. She started wiggling, and he pressed a hand to her
stomach with a hiss.
cannot do that, sweetheart."
that delicious bum in my lap. You'll make me forget I'm trying to be a
laughed and kissed her temple. "You're so innocent, precious." He
linked his fingers through hers, and was glad she didn't drop her eyes
from his. They remained that way for the rest of the sitting, both
ignoring the crowd, the painter, and the fact their hour was
dangerously close to being up. His thumb caressed her hand, and he
wanted to kiss her so badly. She wanted it, too, by the way she would
lick her lips intermittingly. AJ, however, didn't want their first kiss
in front of an audience, so when the painter finally said he was
finished, he kissed her cheek and helped her to her feet.
much?" AJ asked in Greek.
give it to you free," the painter said, glancing at Samara briefly.
"It's always nice to see a young couple in love."
heart constricted at that, but he smiled at thanked the man. He took
the painting after the artist rolled it up carefully and gave the man a
tip anyway. He turned around to see Samara still waiting, eyeing the
painting in his hand.
I get a chance to see it?"
gave her a coy smile. "Maybe."
chuckled and held out his hand. After a brief hesitation, she took it,
and he kissed the back of her hand in gratitude.
the two merely strolled, she taking in the sights and he taking in her.
Love . . . he couldn't possibly be in love with her, not just yet, but
he knew she was one of those rare women who would make it easy to love
her and not make a man regret it. There was a goodness about her, an
honesty, that he hadn't encountered in a woman for far too long.
much of that hour do we have?" he asked after a few minutes. He had led
them into a side street where there was less pedestrian traffic.
looked at her watch and sucked her teeth. "I have to go now."
are you staying?"
do you want to know?"
escort you there, of course."
gave him a small grin. "I walked here alone."
that. You will indulge me in this, won't you, darling?"
grin widened and she inclined her head deferentially. "Marina Hotel."
was not too far from the market, but it was still a nice enough walk he
could play tour guide and point to all the places of interest that
perhaps wouldn't be in a travel book. When they reached the entrance of
her hotel, both weren't very thrilled and, as had been a theme of their
day, he stopped and tugged on her hand to get her to do the same.
I see you again?"
turned to him; she didn't drop his hand. "You still want to see me?"
not here alone."
winced; he couldn't help it. Could it be she actually was
taken? He hoped not. The connection he felt with this woman . . . he
couldn't promise not to be a cad and not to try to lure her away.
the American men weren't as dumb as he had thought.
you should come to my restaurant," he said with a slightly forced
smile. "I promise to give you a good deal."
so there was an angle!"
was teasing him, but for a moment, a defense sprung on his tongue. He
gave her a slow grin and touched the tip of her nose affectionately.
"You think you are so witty, precious."
many men like you pay attention to girls like me, so . . ."
like me?" She ducked her head and shrugged, but he wouldn't let that
do. He tilted her head up and forced her to look at him. "What do you
mean by that, darling?"
bit that bottom lip once more, and he couldn't help but graze it with
his thumb. She gasped, clearly shocked by his boldness. So was he. "AJ?"
have to go—"
like me?" he asked again, moving that thumb across that lip. "What are
'men like me' like?"
gave him a mild glare. "Oh, you know!"
was quiet for so long, he thought she wouldn't say anything, but
finally, she whispered, "Gorgeous men."
And since when did 'gorgeous' men not pay attention to gorgeous women?"
was blushing and she bowed her head, and his hand moved from her chin
to her cheek. He tilted her head up again, and he saw the tears pooled
in her eyes. There was that vulnerability and disbelief, and it broke
his heart to see it. It was obvious she didn't think herself repulsive,
or else her appearance and her walk would've said that long before her
mouth ever could. No, this was the look of a woman who had been ignored
and passed over for so long she was shocked someone finally had noticed
her. Didn't know how to deal with herself being discovered.
AJ murmured, his thumb drifting over the swell of a smooth,
caramel-brown round cheek. She was free of makeup, allowing her natural
loveliness to shine through even more. "That's the name of the
restaurant. And my last name."
arched an eyebrow. "Is the food good?" Her voice was husky.
best you'll find on the peninsula," AJ said a little cockily.
grinned and nodded. "Okay. I'll hold you to that claim."
he said, smiling as well. Goodness, all he wanted to do was lift her in
his arms and rock her, comfort her. He forced himself to drop his hand
and back away, or else he'd never let her go. "I recommend coming at
six, right before the evening rush. I'll reserve the best table for
most important person," AJ amended with a wink.
giggle slipped out, and she shook her head. "All right, Mr. Melonakos.
We'll see you at six."
"I eagerly anticipate the hour," he said. He didn't leave
until long after she had disappeared into the hotel, and he bounced the
painting in his free hand. He might have to keep the painting for
himself and frame it, a reminder of his delightful American woman.
Plumville (Available Now!)
screen door burst open and bounced against the wall a few times before
creaking slowly back to its formerly-closed position. Two children, the
eldest being the one who first blundered through the door, talked
hurriedly to the black woman in the small-print floral smock who was
mixing batter for cornbread, and showed her the bleeding finger of the
crying second child.
Ceelee, I told you you
was too young to be playin' wit' them boys!" the woman replied on a
sigh, setting the bowl down and taking the injured brown finger in her
child, Ceelee, sniffled, her bottom lip poking out far beyond its
normal place. "They was mean, Mama!"
called her tar baby, Aunty Patty!" the first child said, lifting himself on the counter and
dipping into the mix. Aunty Patty gave the boy a reproachful look, and
he blushed, but put the offending finger in his mouth anyway.
they pulled my hair, too," Ceelee
croaked, following her mother as she led her to the sink. Patty turned
on the faucet and lifted her daughter so her hands would reach the
what were y'all doin' so Ceelee hurt her finger? Y'all stayed in that
stood beside her, his attention focused on his friend's finger. "Yeah! We was swordfightin' with
branches and stupid Tommy Birch took a swipe at Ceelee's hand 'cause
she wanted a turn holdin'
rolled her eyes, rubbing a soap cake over Ceelee's hands. "Told you not
to play wit' them boys, now!"
Mama, it's fun!" Ceelee declared, her pain gone and
anxious to play again.
and I got ole Tommy—gave him a good lick in his jaw!"
me, young man, you did what?!"
and Benny looked at each other with wide eyes, scared at the new voice.
Florence . . ." Patty sighed, turning off the water and setting down
Ceelee to the side. The other woman wore a smart dark blue cardigan
over a crisp white blouse and a black skirt. Her blonde hair was short
and curled around her head, making it appear as a soft halo, and her
face was perfected with
flawless makeup accentuating her thin lips, narrow nose, and
aristocratic eyebrows. "I was just—"
hand cut off Patty's explanation, and she regarded her son with a stern
look. "Benjamin Mark Drummond, tell me you did not hit Tommy Birch!
Your father and I raised you better than that!"
dropped his head and nodded, shuffling his feet and putting his hands
in his pockets. "Sorry, Mama . . ."
frowned at him once more before turning her attention to Patty. "Is
dinner almost ready?"
nodded, tying a napkin around Ceelee's finger in a makeshift bandage.
"Ceelee got hurt playin' outside, so I had to take care of it. It'll be
ready soon as the cornbread's done."
clasped her hands at her stomach and tsked.
"She shouldn't be playing with boys, Patty. She's a little girl; she
should be doing girl things, like playing with dolls or learning how to
cook. Why doesn't she stay in here and watch you? It'll be useful
lessons for her, don't you think?"
smile was tight and she went back to the cornbread mix, her wrist
action more lively than earlier. "Ceelee would be bored to death just
sittin' in here lookin' at me, Miss Florence. Besides, she's used to
playin' with boys; she plays with Luther Jr. and his friends while at
home . . ."
scoffed, pulling off the lids of the pots on the stove to peek at what
Patty was cooking. "But there aren't any appropriate children here for
Coralee to play with—"
plays with me, Mama; I'm her friend! That's why I hit Tommy Birch!
Because he called her a tar—"
no use repeatin' it now,
Benny," Patty said, knocking the mixing spoon against the side of the
bowl for the excess batter to slide off it. "What's done is done."
don't you go read Ceelee one o' yo' books, huh?" Patty suggested,
giving her young charge a warm smile. "Ceelee loves to hear you read."
the little girl squealed, "I wanna hear about Curious George again!"
children left in excited chatter, and Patty grinned, secretly pleased
little Benjamin treated her daughter as a true friend. Florence sighed
and stood next to Patty as the housekeeper poured the mix in a square
tin pan. "This is not good, Patty. Benjamin's
becoming far too attached to Coralee."
bit her lip, catching drops of the mix on her finger and wiping them on
her apron. "They're just children, Miss Florence—"
is seven years old and in first grade! By the time I was his age I knew
the way of the world!"
nowhere to leave her, Miss Florence," Patty explained, placing the tin
in the preheated oven. She turned the stove's eyes on simmer to keep
the rest of the food warm. "Ceelee and Benny usually stay out of
trouble; today was . . . special."
Florence's eyebrows quirked. "If
they keep on going the way they are, they'll be in all sorts of trouble
when they're older . . ."
who had been wiping down the counter, slowed her movements and stared
at the wet streaks on the marigold countertop. "Miss Florence, they
just children! Benny's at school most of the time, anyway, and Ceelee does
help me here . . . but today was a holiday . . ."
leaned against the counter, speaking in low tones near Patty's cheek.
"Don't tell me you can't see it, how protective my
son is of your daughter! He feels too much
affection for someone so obviously wrong for him! I mean can
you really imagine it? Benjamin in love with a nigra!"
other woman placed her hand on top of Patty's.
"I'm not saying Coralee's not a nice young girl, but she needs to be
around . . . her kind . . ."
looked at Florence out the corner of her eye, inhaling slowly before
exhaling and starting her cleaning again. "You don't think you panickin' for nothin'? Ceelee's
only four years old! Benny's seven! For
all we know he probably still thinks girls have cooties!"
said nothing, patting Patty's shoulder before going to the kitchen door
and watching her son read to her housekeeper's daughter. Florence
frowned when Benny wrapped an arm around Ceelee, bringing the girl
closer to him.
sniffed, leaving the door to stand in the middle of the kitchen, arms
crossed at her chest. "My son certainly does not
think Coralee has cooties!"
shook her head and shrugged, going to the sink and wringing the excess
water out the dishrag. "He probably thinks of Ceelee as a little sister
. . ."
tilted her chin upward. "Nevertheless, I think you should stop bringing
Coralee here. We wouldn't want this 'friendship' escalating to
laid the rag gently on the edge of the sink, clenching her jaw and
counting to five before responding. "I won't bring her again."
large smile bloomed on Florence's face, and she took a deep breath,
relaxing her posture. "I'm going to freshen up. Call
me when dinner is ready? And
don't forget to fix Paul a plate. He's having a long day at court
today. I tell you, all this 'civil rights' legislation creates so much
paperwork nowadays . . ."
merely leaned against the counter and gave her boss a wan smile.
Florence returned it, glancing at the children before making her
retreat. Patty's smile disappeared and she shook her head, pulling
silverware out to set the table. People like Florence Drummond kept
progress from happening in Plumville, yet as much as she didn't want to
admit it, Miss Florence had a point. Benny and Ceelee's affection for
one another could reach dangerous territory if it wasn't stopped. Benny proved that
today with his oblivious defense of Ceelee's feelings. In fact, Benny
should be right beside that Birch boy calling her daughter names, but
he wasn't. It helped Patty had been working in the Drummond home for
years, even before Benjamin was born. She used to bring Luther Jr. to
work before he got old enough to go to school, and after Coralee was
born, the three of them had grand times making up games and telling
stories, though little Ceelee mostly listened and ran to her mother's
knee when the boys' stories got a little too scary.
But now, it was only Coralee and
Benjamin, and their friendship had manifested itself differently. It
was almost as if Coralee's brother had been a buffer to the something
between the other two children. Benjamin was not Coralee's brother; his
relationship with her was anything but fraternal. It was as if Coralee
was the most precious thing in the world to Benjamin, and she adored
her playmate as well, almost talking about him constantly at
home—to the consternation of her father.
hummed lowly as she completed the final place setting, lifting her eyes
to the ceiling as if asking for guidance. Patty was all for equality
and togetherness, and saw Benjamin and Coralee as hope for the future .
. . but not necessarily with the two being together that way.
timer buzzed, jerking Patty out of her musings, and she slipped on
mitts before pulling the golden brown cornbread from the oven. She
allowed it to cool on a trivet and checked the other pots and pans to
make sure the food remained decent.
"Mama!" Patty fixed a plate for
Mr. Drummond and smiled as her daughter held up a Curious
George book. "Benny say
I can keep it!"
put the backs of her hands to her hips, arching an eyebrow when the boy
in question entered the kitchen. "That's very nice of you to give that
book to her, Benny."
smiled sheepishly and shrugged. "I have loads of the books, and Ceelee
likes it so . . ."
slow smile crept on Patty's face. "You really like my daughter, don't
nodded excitedly. "Yes'm! When we get older we gonna get married!"
mouth dropped open while Ceelee made a disgusted face. "Married?
We gon' hafta do all that icky kissy
stuff like my mama and daddy?"
scrunched up his face and stuck out his tongue. "Oh
no! Just we can stay in the same house
and play forever and ever and ever—"
read Curious George?" Ceelee interrupted excitedly.
grinned and nodded, wrapping his arm around the smaller girl. "Yeah! I could read to you every
right, Benny, before you begin makin'
weddin' plans go get yo'
Mama and tell her dinner's ready," Patty commanded, putting Mr.
Drummond's plate in the oven and closing its door. Though the oven was
off, the lingering heat inside would hold the food at a comfortable
gonna tell Mama!" Benny exclaimed as he did Patty's bidding, and Patty
set the prepared dinner plates on the table for the other two
Drummonds, glancing over her shoulder at her daughter. "Yeah, Ceelee?"
old I gotta be befo' I get married?"
smiled softly, crouching before her daughter and touching her cheek
lightly. "Not fo' a long
while, sweetheart. Right now you just concentrate on bein' the cutest
four-year-old this side of Plumville!"
smiled, pressing a kiss to her mother's cheek. "Yes'm, Mama."
stood, taking her daughter's hand and they went to the backdoor. She
helped the girl put on her coat, then slipped hers on, smiling as
Ceelee buttoned the bottom while she handled the top. "Thank you, sweet
Mama . . ."
A word . . ."
face was pinched, her
eyes following her son's progress to Coralee. Patty slid her purse on
her arm, allowing Florence to guide her into the main dining room.
just children,' eh?" Patty said nothing, watching red creep
into Florence's cheeks. "Coralee's a nice girl, but not for my
Benjamin, you understand?"
nodded slowly. "Yes'm."
let out a slow breath, squeezing Patty's forearm. "I know it's hard for
you, but Coralee needs another place to stay during the day . . . got
to nip these fanciful notions in the bud . . ."
gave a sympathetic smile. "I'll see you tomorrow, Patty."
gave a curt nod and walked briskly to the backdoor. "Say goodbye,
little girl hugged her friend tightly, murmuring thank you for the
book. Benny's cheeks reddened slightly, and he patted her back
you later, Ceelee!" Benny called, as they walked down the steps. Ceelee
waved and hugged her mother's leg, an edge of the book biting into
Patty's lower thigh.
and Florence regarded each other, both holding onto their children as
if they were lifelines. Florence nodded imperceptibly and ushered
Benjamin inside, closing the door with a soft, creaking click.
rubbed Ceelee's shoulders and exhaled. "C'mon, baby, let's go home."
took her daughter's hand and they began the hour-long walk from the
big, well-kept houses and businesses of downtown Plumville to the
small, patched-together dwellings of its southern side. Patty listened
to Ceelee chatter away about what she and Benjamin would do the next
time they saw each other. Patty wondered how she would tell Coralee
"next time" would never come . . .